Friday, May 27, 2011

Don't kid yourself, they're snobs

Looks like I have to wade into the garden again to call a spade a spade.

Rallying under the idiotic moniker "foodie," activist Eric Schlosser wrote a piece recently defending his camp from being called "food elitists" by claiming that his ranking of some foods over others is based on the harm those foods do to society. The defense falls flat when you let a few rays of reality shine on his positions.

I've been calling his side "food snobs" for awhile now, and it's never occurred to me I had to justify that label. Talk about conspicuous consumption, these people claim any food that isn't produced through primitive, labor-intensive and inefficient means is unhealthy, foul, inferior and outright poisonous. It's not enough to celebrate their expensive meals, they feel the need to dismiss "commoner food" as cheap and unfit for human consumption.

They talk about their own meals like flowery long-winded menu-writers, slipping unimportant cooking techniques and obscure ingredients into the titles of their food. It's not enough to say they had salmon last night, they have to call it "pan-seared Atlantic salmon encrusted with sea salt." It doesn't matter that the presence of sea salt is indistinguishable from table salt, sea salt costs $2 an ounce and expensive ingredients build up expectations of better taste.

When you spend all your time proclaiming your food undeniably tastes better, turning your nose up at "toxic" poor-people food, and proclaiming yourself as a savior for low-status people, then yes, you are a food elitist.

There's an old saying that madness and genius are separated by a few degrees of success. I have to take Schlosser's side and say if his assumptions were true, and that realistic food production was somehow a threat to public health, then he'd be correct in saying some foodies are not snobs but concerned.

The reality is, of course, that the food system he envisions is completely unrealistic, harmful to the environment, hamstrings the economy, and in some cases, a threat to public health. They want to return to a fictional golden age of food the same way social conservatives view the 1950's.

So if their world view wasn't completely wrong, some foodies could escape the "snob" label. But Schlosser isn't one of them. He's guilty as a fox covered in chicken feathers.

Schlosser is the co-producer of the Food Inc. documentary, which I Netflixed purely as a service to my readers. It's exactly the same sort of fear mongering and self-congratulating you'd expect and instead of drafting a whole post of complaints, let me focus on the one that stood out for me.

The camera follows a poor family that eats a lot of fast food. They claim they can't afford regular food, and the film makers appear to sympathize with them. They say for the price of two pears you could get a McMeal.

So what good-natured, progressive solution do they recommend for this family. Expanding the food stamp program? Subsidizing fruits and vegetables? More meals at public schools?

Nope, none of these. They want a Pigovian tax on the foods the poor are eating now. Their solution isn't to make the choices they see as good cheaper, but to make the "bad" choices more expensive.

Maybe Schlosser didn't hear the family when they said this is the only food they can afford. He's willing to make this family poorer in exchange for some small marginal changes in consumption. Less new socks for junior, but at least he's eating mashed potatoes instead of French fries.

They're just assuming of course, that the poor are going to be making fresh salads instead of stocking up on Ramen noodles and boxes of spaghetti. Look at college students as a model for expected behavior.

Nice try food snobs, really now. If it bothers you so much to be called elitists why don't you try exercising a little humility and see if the label fades?

1 comment:

  1. I hear all salt came from the sea at one time or another... shhhh, don't tell anyone.